A pulsating quarter-final, won on penalties by Germany against France, lit up the Women’s World Cup finals in Canada and set up what should be another thrilling encounter when the Germans meet the USA, 1-0 winners against China, in Tuesday evening’s semi-final at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
It’s just a pity that neither Germany’s quarter-final nor the impending semi could have been the final itself. Germany, America and France are respectively the world’s top three women’s national teams, and fourth-ranked Japan were the only one of the top five that were placed in the other side of the draw.
So the quarter-final clash between Europe’s finest was a near inevitability after the Germans had breezed their way to the last eight, thumping fifth-ranked Sweden 4-1 in their Round of 16 tie, while France – who had beaten England 1-0 in their opening group game – had hit their best form when stylishly beating South Korea 3-0 in the last 16.
Germany went through 5-4 on penalties, Sylvia Neid’s team converting all five of their spot kicks before the substitute Claire Lavogez had France’s fifth effort saved by the goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. But Les Bleus had been the better side for much of the contest and would have clinched victory if the striker Gaëtane Thiney had not missed a simple chance three minutes from the end of extra time.
It was heartbreaking for France, the 20-year old Lavogez collapsing in tears as she was consoled by team-mates, but it was not an unfamiliar feeling.
Two years after losing to Denmark on penalties in the European Championship quarter-finals – and four years since going out of the World Cup in the semi-finals after a last eight shoot-out success against England – the French once again produced some of the most attractive football of the tournament but could not find a killer touch when it mattered most.
“It’s frustrating,” Philippe Bergeroo, their head coach, said, “but we only have ourselves to blame. We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities, and Germany won with their efficiency and power.”
There were opportunities aplenty for Bergeroo’s team, who set off at a fearsome pace and could have been a goal up almost from the kick-off through the midfielder Louisa Necib. But the so-called Zinedine Zidane of the women’s game missed the target from close range, and it was not until after other chances had come and gone that she atoned with a deflected 64th minute shot to open the scoring.
The game at that point seemed to be in France’s hands, but the Germans forced their way into contention and the striker Celia Sasic equalised with an expertly converted 84th minute penalty after the defender Amel Majri had been harshly adjudged to have handled the ball. Sasic was then equally as deadly with her team’s final shoot-out penalty before Lavogez’ missed shot put Germany into the semi-finals. “France were better than us in the first half,” Neid, their head coach, admitted. “But we flicked the switch in the second half and we were strong through the shoot-out.”
A couple of hours after Germany had reached the last four the USA followed them, Jill Ellis, the head coach, in her post-match comments venting her frustration at the way that she and her players have been criticised throughout the tournament despite their progress towards the final.
The USA’s convincing if narrow victory over China, the striker Carli Lloyd netting the only goal, came through their best performance of a competition in which they have not lost a match and where they have conceded just one goal – and that was in their opening group game against Australia, a matter of 423 minutes ago and counting as they head into the last four.
Ellis’s team had gone into the game with their hackles raised by the words of some notable doubters. The legendary striker Michelle Akers, a member of the USA team that won both the 1991 and 1999 World Cups, reckoned that some of Ellis’s decisions were “unexplainable,” while the 2-0 Round of 16 win against Colombia was described as “pathetic” by the Fox Sports commentator Eric Wynalda, a former USA international, and Julie Foudy – like Akers a two times World Cup winner – said after that last 16 clash that America had played “four stagnant games”.
There was nothing stagnant about their display in Ottawa against the Chinese. The only thing missing was goals to widen the margin of victory, and if Amy Rodriguez had not missed a simple chance in the second minute then more might have followed before and after Lloyd’s 51st minute header.
But what was the USA’s 25th consecutive win against China, who they most famously beat on penalties in the 1999 final in front of a still record 90,185 crowd at the Pasadena Rose bowl, comprehensively took them into a semi-final meeting with their biggest rivals in world football.
Now they have the chance to go on and win the World Cup for what would be a record third time. A defiant Ellis said: “This team steps up in big moments – it’s time to play!”Reuse content